As Australia successfully flattens the coronavirus curve, some states and territories with no new cases could ease social restrictions before others, leading epidemiologists have said.
It could take longer for eastern states, particularly New South Wales and Victoria, to open up than their western counterparts, Professor James McCaw, a mathematical biologist and infectious diseases epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne said.
“I think it’s a possibility, but we would need to be very cautious,” he said.
“We don’t yet have the enhanced surveillance system in place to be absolutely confident to say that we can pick up new importations or new outbreaks.
“We need more time to have that system there.”
As of 6.30pm on Thursday, Australia had only recorded six new cases that day.
The Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory had no new cases.
Professor emeritus Gerry Fitzgerald, a public health expert at the Queensland University of Technology and a former chief health officer of Queensland, agreed that Australia could soon be in a position to open up some areas.
“It in theoretical terms, if we can cordon off any places that are a worry, the rest of the places can relax a little bit,” Professor Emeritus Fitzgerald said.
“If for example, there were cases in Sydney and no cases in Perth, you could say it would be safe for people in Perth to move around. It is 4000 kilometres away.
“It is like saying there’s an outbreak in Moscow and people in London need to be cautious.
“As I read it, we’ve done very well in this country. We are actually close to closing down the transmission of the disease completely.”
Although it would be better to move as a whole country, it could possibly work as long as everyone had the right message and we could follow any outbreaks, he said.
“If we are able to say assuredly there’s no evidence of community transmission, and we can say that has been the case now for two weeks, it is reasonably safe to presume there isn’t the ongoing domestic transmission.
“And therefore to start gently and carefully taking some of the brakes off and allowing increased movement and getting people back to work.
“It is technically possible.”
A group of Harvard disease experts said this week that some form of intermittent social distancing may need to be in place until 2022.
If the whole of Australia did manage to eliminate the virus, we will still need to be in some form of lockdown until a vaccine is widely distributed.
Even if that lockdown was from the rest of the world, said Professor Emeritus Fitzgerald.
“No matter what we do here, we’re going to have to be in lockdown from the world for 12 to 18 months,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean complete isolation, but any travel would need to be on very strict grounds. Like anyone coming in has to be quarantined for two weeks and I can’t see that changing for a while.”
Epidemiologist from the University of Melbourne Dr Kathryn Snow said if we were going to open up some states but not others, we would need to tread very cautiously.
“A state is a large unit, so you can have diversity among states,” Dr Snow said.
“NSW, for instance, has a bigger problem in Sydney than elsewhere else.
“Some states, although they have a small number of cases they have areas that are particularly vulnerable.
“In WA and the NT, they have a lot of regional and remote communities that are very vulnerable, where even 20 cases could be a disaster.
“So any relaxation has to be very careful.”